Mr James Henry Gordon 'Butch' McArthur


photo: 1935, aged 24



37925 Flight Lieutenant James Henry Gordon ‘Butch’ MacArthur DFC

Born in Tynemouth on 12th February 1913, MacArthur became a civil pilot in the 1930’s, at one time holding the London to Baghdad speed record. He took an RAF Short Service Commission in 1936, being Commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer on the 6th, and on 18th July was posted to No.9 Flying Training School at Thornaby where he became a full Pilot Officer on 11th October. He then joined the Station Flight at Aldergrove on 14th January 1937 and was promoted Flying Officer on 11th May. On 1st October 1938 he was posted to the Experimental Section, Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough as a test pilot.

MacArthur was posted to 238 Squadron at Middle Wallop as a Flight Commander in June 1940, having become a Flight Lieutenant on 11th May, before joining 609 at Middle Wallop as B Flight Commander on 1st August 1940 under S/Ldr Darley. On 8th August whilst flying Spitfire R6977 he destroyed two Ju.87’s off the Isle of Wight at 12:30hrs, and destroyed a Bf.110 on the 11th, again in R6977, 15 miles south south east of Swanage at 10:15hrs. Flying R6977 again he claimed a Bf.110 probably destroyed on the 12th and Claimed a Bf.109 damaged on the 13th August flying R6977. On 15th August he destroyed two Bf.110's in R6769, one northwest of Southampton and the other 15 miles south south west of this. He claimed another Bf.110 Destroyed on the 25th in X4165 at 17:20hrs in the Warmwell / Poole area and on 7th September he destroyed a Do.17Z in L1008, damaging a Do.215 just over a week later on the 15th in R6979 during an action in which he suffered an oxygen failure at 25,000ft. Attacked by Bf.109’s he lost consciousness and came to just in time to pull out of a high-speed dive at a low altitude. The damage to his ears was to require future hospital treatment, but on the 16th he flew Spitfire R6922 to Hamble for repair. The Air Speed Indicator began to malfunction so he decided to follow another aircraft down onto the runway, much to the chagrin of the pilot of the other aircraft who then went around for another circuit. McArthur followed him for a few more circuits until he finally landed, forgetting to lower his undercarriage in the process and writing off the aircraft. ‘I didn’t like the thing anyway’ he is recorded as saying.

Following medical tests Butch handed over command of B Flight to Flight Lieutenant Dundas, after which he was not allowed to fly above 5,000 feet and in consequence was not able to return to operations, although on 25th September flying X4165 he had destroyed another Bf.110 (reported as a Jaguar) over Bournemouth. MacArthur was awarded the DFC on 22nd October 1940, announced on the 9th in Squadron Routine Orders, and was portrayed by Captain Cuthbert Orde in November.

Subsequently employed on what he called ‘stooge jobs’, he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader on 1st September 1941, being promoted to Wing Commander on 1st January 1944.

Released from the RAF in 1947 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in Edmonton, Alberta in 1948 and was posted to the Winter Experimental Establishment, testing RAF and Royal Navy aircraft. In 1949 he turned his hand to air racing and was granted leave for the races, acquiring Spitfire MkXIVe TZ138 on 4th August 4th, 1949 in partnership with F/Lt Ken Brown DFC, who had been a Flight Sergeant with 617 Squadron on the Dams raid. Purchasing the Spitfire for $1250, registering it as CF-GMZ on 25th August.

Sponsored by Pat Reid of Imperial Oil, who told Brown 'you have a sure winner on your hands', and granted a Class F racing certificate of serviceability by the Department of Transport, Butch flew from Edmonton via Toronto and raced in the Tinnerman Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio as number 80, finishing in third place in the Thompson Trophy on 4th September 1949 and receiving a substantial prize for his efforts. MacArthur left the airfield the following morning at 06:00hrs with the winnings and without filing a flight plan or informing F/Lt Brown, later selling the aircraft for $1000 to apparently pay for race debts despite the sponsorship.

He was transferred shortly afterwards and served in Canada, the United States and Japan and being awarded the United Nations Korea Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration.

He was badly injured in an accident involving two cars in 1957, ending up in a hospital in Montreal and leaving the airforce soon afterwards, moving to Mexico. He married and divorced after a few years but remained in Mexico and is reputed to have joined the Mexican Air Force.

Wing Commander ‘Butch’ MacArthur was killed in a flying accident at the Las Vegas Airshow in May 1961 at the age of 48 and was buried with full military honours through the help of the Vancouver Legion. His medals were sold at Sothebys in 1986.


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